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The team from Cumbria have been welcome visitors to Griffin Park in recent seasons, having left point-less on each of their last four visits, but prior to that run they certainly held the upper hand in meetings between the two teams. In fact, Brentford’s only win since the two teams were re-united in 1978 had come in February 1987 on a cold winter’s afternoon.

The previous few weeks had not been without drama as 14 days earlier earlier, a 4-1 thumping at Port Vale had signalled the end of Frank McLintock’s tenure as Bees manager. A poor season of results cost the likeable Scotsman his job and Chairman Martin Lange showed little sentiment when he made the decision,

“I was disappointed for Frank because he worked very hard but he didn’t get the success he deserved. I had to weigh up the situation and felt it was time for a change and to bring in different ideas. The Club has got an excellent stadium, now that the new Brook Road stand is open and I don’t think the achievements of the team reflect our future plans.”

Player/Assistant Manager Steve Perryman had taken the reins as caretaker manager following McLintock’s dismissal and having overseen a 4-2 win against Walsall in a Freight Rover Trophy tie and a 3-3 home draw against Fulham seven days earlier, the former Spurs man picked a team including 18-year old Arsenal loanee Paul Merson.

The lowest Griffin Park attendance of the season for a league match – just 3,032 were left shivering in the freezing conditions until the 43rd minute when Paul Maddy finally punished a poor opposition with a characteristic 25-yard rocket after Perryman had tapped a free-kick to him, but within 60 seconds, the scores were once again level.

A disappointing first-half had been lit up only by the silky skills of young Merson. Playing on the right wing, he showed all the nous of an experienced professional and his performance prompted the Middlesex Chronicle reporter to reflect that “it’s a pity that the Gunners seem unlikely to release him permanently.” Yes, that was a bit of a shame!

The second goal arrived in the 66th minute, when a bobbling ball eventually found its way to Jamie Bates and then Gary Stevens before Francis Joseph struck his shot goalwards and the ball squirmed into the net.

Until the arrival of that goal, the visitors had been kept in the game by a superb display from their goalkeeper Eric Nixon. The on-loan Manchester City ‘keeper went on to make more than 500 league appearances, including almost 350 games for Tranmere Rovers where he became a thorn in the side for Brentford, seemingly producing an outstanding display whenever the Bees were in opposition.

Victory against Carlisle – and Brentford’s first league win since 30th November – was sealed in scrappy style in the 83rd minute when Jamie Murray’s low cross was completely missed by Robbie Carroll but defender Billy Wright, in attempting a sliding tackle, diverted the ball into his own net.

The win left Brentford in 18th position, seven points clear of 23rd placed Carlisle, but still with a fight on their hands to pull clear of the relegation scrap. Three weeks later, Perryman was given the manager’s job permanently and the rest is history as he guided the team to mid-table security, but not before Martin Lange had sought the man he believed would take the Bees to the next level.

“Yes,” Lange admitted, “I did make an approach for Dave Bassett. Under the Football League regulations I spoke to Wimbledon’s chairman and then made a written request for permission to speak to him, but they made it quite clear they were not prepared to release him. I’ve always admired what he’s done at Wimbledon on a shoe-string budget. He’s built them up from grass-roots level and has a vibrant youth set-up there, which is what I would like to develop at Brentford. His experience in the Third Division, as well as in the First and Second Divisions, means his credentials measured up to what we’re looking for here. I’m ambitious and I want Brentford to go to the top. We’re possibly the second biggest club behind Chelsea in West London and I thought Bassett would relish the challenge.”

As it transpired, Bassett resigned from Wimbledon four months later and the following season he achieved the dubious ‘honour’ of being relegated with two clubs – Watford and Sheffield United – in the same season.

Funny old game, football!

Mark Croxford